Volunteers Making History

Every Monday and Friday, the Uniting Church Archives Centre comes alive. The front doorbell rings, volunteers arrive, archive materials are brought out and their contents spread across working tables, the rhythm of keyboard clicks punctuates the air, telephones ring – and laughter and camaraderie echo across the Centre.

At the core of this simmering activity are volunteers – Betty, Reg, John, Nancy, Joan, Julie, Di, Linley and Brian – who, led by Marissa Krajcar, Archivist and Archives Co-ordinator, manage and drive the organisation and preservation of Western Australian Uniting Church materials and objects for posterity.
Many of the team have been volunteering together for over 10 years, some for 30 years, and several still remember when the Archives Centre was located at Westminster House on Pier Street. Since then, and after a grand move co-ordinated by many of the volunteers who still help out today – the Archives are housed in spacious, purpose-created premises in the Uniting Church Centre on Edward Street, Perth.

The Archives Centre receives and collects materials and artefacts associated with the Uniting Church, its agencies, schools and former missions in Western Australia. On a regular basis, records and items which are no longer in use are sent in for depositing from church ministers, congregations and other affiliates. Some materials at the Centre are contemporary in nature and others much, much older – dating back from the Church’s origins in the Swan River colony, its existence as separate Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches, Union as the Uniting Church in 1977- right up to the present day.

A browse of the Centre’s dedicated library and display cabinets reveal a fascinating array of collectables, including vintage bibles, published biographies on Church founders, original history books, vintage hymn books, local Church histories and books on the institutions of the Church.

The Archives volunteer team researches and identifies materials of significance, prepares them for archiving, then categorises, collates, digitises and registers the information as required. The diverse range of items coming through the Centre over the years include: birth, marriage and death certificates, church baptismal rolls, wedding registers, parish newsletters, minute books, annual reports, journals, diaries, local
church histories, church title deeds, architectural plans, sheet music, vintage Bibles, old handwritten letters, historic photos, and artefacts such as stained-glass windows, vestments and antique communion trays.

Every year the Archives Centre sends an annual deposit of archival materials to the Battye Library, the repository for documentary heritage material relating to the history of Western Australia. This year, volunteers produced some 17 boxes of history to add to the Uniting Church’s Collection at the Library – the largest private collection. The Collection is open to any researcher, however some records have restricted access due to personal and sensitive reasons and until enough time has elapsed for them to be accessible to the wider community.

Whilst the Archives Centre is not open to the public, except by special request, Archives Co-ordinator,
Marissa explained, “We receive all sorts of enquiries by phone or email from interested persons – for family history records, for information on the architecture of our historic church buildings and their pipe organs, and to help identify documents. The public and church community have also assisted our appeals on social media to identify bygone buildings and people in photos.”

“We are proud to be part of such a wonderful enterprise,” said Betty Pearson, Archives volunteer researcher. “Over the years, volunteers have come from a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Some of us are motivated by a love of history or genealogy, others by our long association with the Uniting Church and wanting to remain of service and others by the longstanding friendships we have formed here.” Current and former volunteers include retired ordained ministers, librarians, schoolteachers, a headmaster, an electrician, an economist, lay preachers, secretaries and writers. “Many bring with them a detailed knowledge and background of Uniting churches from all over the state because they have attended a church at one location as a child; and then as an adult, have gone on to worship at Uniting churches in other places,” Betty finished.

Over the years, the Archives Centre has worked with WAGS (the WA Genealogical Society, now called Family History WA),the WA Newspapers, Redress WA and the Battye Library. Some major projects included: creating a digitised record of more than 72,000 baptisms from 1840 to 1999; Archive volunteers assisting at the WA Newspapers to identify and list old photographs relating to the Church; assisting the Battye Library to accession archival material that the Church has deposited there; and a more recent
project of one year to record names of children who had lived at former missions of the Church.

In this edition of Revive, we acknowledge volunteers and contributors to the Archives, both past and present – for their dedication and commitment to document, shape and preserve the history of the Uniting Church. “We would like to thank all individual volunteers, previous voluntary committees, former
honorary archivists and others who have contributed to the success of the Archives Centre,” said Marissa. “Without their determination, commitment and creativity over the years, we could not have succeeded.”

Tracey Paul

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